The Evolution of a New Concept
Following up on the ideas that first led me to multiple-panel imagery, (see my blog post on this subject )
I recently completed an 8-part painting comprised of panels 12″ high and of differing widths.
I am always on the lookout for new ways to present multiple-panel pieces, whether they are parts of a whole, variations on a theme (as above) or completely different images united in a frame.
A few years ago, while chatting with my son Tony about his visit to Storm King Art Center (an expansive sculpture park located near Newburg, NY on beautiful, hilly terrain), I noticed a screen shot on his laptop.
It was a sequence of photos that he had shot of the Maya Lin earth installation Wavefield at Storm King, with which he was quite taken.
I immediately asked for him to forward me the screen shot, and filed the idea away for future use, thinking I would eventually apply it to some other imagery—ocean; field; or marsh.
Two years later, I visited Storm King with Tony and my sister Carla and niece Audri on a glorious fall day with a bright blue sky. When we finally wended our way down to the Wavefield, they had a sign up asking viewers not to walk out on it due to fragility from recent rains.
So this is my pic from the sidelines, not at all what my son had come up with from tromping around inside it and shooting it with his photographer’s eye. Our bright fall day also didn’t have the color of his original photos with a soft green-grass and white-sky palette that is a favorite of mine.
I, too, was intrigued by the installation, and got to thinking that maybe I would do a long, unequal-width-panel multiple using Tony’s earlier green/white palette photos after all, instead of some other view or hillside.
Back in my studio, I started planning and prepping.
First, I needed to establish the order of the panels, which I knew had importance as an element completely void of any imagery—-a horizontal grid of unequal-width units creating rhythm. After I cut apart the units and moved them around, I planned my hillside sequence.
Then, I was ready to move onto the small painting phase. When I do this I call it a color sketch, but it is really a finished small painting done to scale.
The first version I liked but found it didn’t have the horizontal extension that had captured my attention with the original image. I was worried about the larger final piece being too long and thin to be transportable and actually work in someone’s home, but had to set this concern aside and forge ahead.
Even in the pencil sketch phase of version #2, I was excited to see that I was creating a whole new sensation of wave with my varied placement of sky-meets-land horizon lines, and soon realized that this was the most salient feature of the evolving piece.
With more panels to work with, the horizon line creates a wave that, from left to right, sweeps across the piece. This was what I was after, so this became the final color sketch for the larger painting.
As I got deeper into the process, I loved the idea that while I was riffing off the work of another artist (first time as a mature artist), and that said artist had created artificial and mesmerizing waves within a landscape, I was also creating in my piece a new, 2-dimensional wave.
In version #2 I also enhanced the waves within the hillsides–Lin’s waves— more than they were visible in the photos and the first color sketch.
Viewers would mostly only experience this viscerally as the various waves in my painting move gently up and down across the panels. The soft green diagonal lines within the hillside are not the most noticeable part, but add interest compositionally and, upon scrutiny, are clearly not naturally occurring.
Next, onto the larger piece.
Using two easels, I painted the panels two and three at a time so that I could always ascertain how each one was interacting with its neighbor, and used my sketch as a guide.
When I use a color sketch as a basis for a larger piece (and this is only a fraction of the time) I proceed the way I always do, blocking in large areas of paint and painting detail with smaller brushes, rather than using any form of projecting or measuring. The pleasure of creating a painting lies in the process of using my painterly/drawerly hand, so I don’t use shortcuts. This way, I also keep my drawing skills sharp.
I had worked things out quite well with the second color sketch, but scale does make a difference. In the large painting, I found that panel #5 didn’t completely please me, so I added a low back mountain on the left, which you can see below in the final version.
If you look individually at these paintings of slanting hillsides, it is easy to imagine that the composition could feel unbalanced and visually slide off the picture plane on the downhill side. In each of them, I have counterbalanced the downhill slope with trees, treelines, back mountains, and the Maya Lin hill lines below the top hill.
In my wave—where the white sky meets the land—the eye goes down; then up to panel #5; and then gently back down and slightly up again in the last panel. The fifth panel is really the acme painting in the grouping, being the highest horizon and almost centered (that almost is important, too). By adding the back mountain and adjusting the top line of the hillside just a hair, I flattened out the horizon and made it sit better as an independent piece while also transitioning more successfully to its neighbors.
If you would like to see this piece in person it is hanging in my solo show at Gold Gallery in Boston’s South End through April 12th. This is a show with a great deal of water in it, so it pleases me that this dramatic new piece connects to the theme in a whole different way. You can see the collection on their website:
I may very well return to this theme in the future with an entirely different type of image/locale which will require fresh problem-solving. One of the gifts that comes from decades of moving deeper and wider into a body of work is the pleasure that this brings—a complex universe, all my own.